A Big Payday

Mike Lawson • Features • September 19, 2007

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In recent years, skyrocketing executive compensation at large, publicly traded corporations has become a major issue in the news and a serious point of contention among shareholders. Companies showing minimal growth, or even downsizing, have seen their top executives’ pay increasing by multiples never before seen. Evidently, this trend is now spilling over into the non-profit sector, including the arena of arts management. The compensation of CEO Josiah Spaulding of the Citi Performing Arts Center made the news in the Boston Globe, July 31 edition when the board of directors paid Spaulding a whopping $1.265 million bonus on top of his regular compensation of $432,135. This largesse took place while the organization was facing serious deficits and dwindling bookings. The board’s defense is that the bonus was part of a contractual obligation that was agreed upon in 2001 and was given now for the CEO’s efforts in the intervening years. Be that as it may, the numbers are still staggering. The most unfortunate part of this picture is that there have been decreases in programming, drastic cuts to the number of performances, and an early end to a recent Shakespeare production at Citi Performing Arts Center.

The first issue that is most disconcerting is that this organization is a “non-profit” corporation; public tax dollars that are being used to subsidize groups of this type. Secondly, does it make sense that someone running an arts organization receives extraordinary compensation when the arts groups that it hires are having difficulty paying their musicians, dancers, singers, and other performers, as well as running deficits in their annual budgets? Granted, it takes a serious amount of skill, dedication, and vision to run a successful (if it is successful) arts management group, but is it worth almost $1.7 million? Even if it is, should it be done on the backs of the performers it hires (or doesn’t hire, in the case of CitiCenter)? Compare this to the Raymond Kravis Center for the Performing Arts in Palm Beach, Florida. According to Charitynavigator.org, the CEO, Judith Miller, whose organization has increasing revenues and a larger budget than CitiCenter’s, makes a more reasonable income of $252,000 per year.

There are managers running organizations with much larger compensation packages, which may be justified, as they are able to keep increasing revenues for their organizations. However, this past April (according to the Boston Globe, April 13, 2007 edition), the Boston Symphony Orchestra asked its volunteers to pay a fee while the orchestra has been burdened with a budget deficit of nearly $1.4 million. This is while the BSO paid its managing director, Mark Volpe, over $400,000 per year. If, according to the Stateline.org, the president of Bard College, who oversees a budget of $159 million, earns $242,000 per year, and one of the country’s highest-paid governors, New York’s Eliot Spitzer, earns $179,000 and oversees a budget of over $100 billion, why are the salaries of some non-profit executives so high in an era marked by severe cuts to the arts?

As our cultural organizations face serious declines in attendance, revenues, and visibility, I imagine we can only wish for visionary leaders who will step forward to reverse this lamentable trend without expecting extraordinary compensation packages in return.

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